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Death of the white African farmerDeath of the white African farmer

Chris Bennett 1

March 27, 2012

4 Min Read

The white African died almost a year ago at age 78. Mike Campbell, a white farmer from Zimbabwe, was a man of conviction and vision — and he paid for it with his life.

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president, began a land reform policy in 2000 aimed at taking white-owned farms and reallocating the acreage to black farmers. Mugabe’s scheme had nothing to do with “reform” or colonial history — it was a pure scramble of greed. Mugabe gobbled up white farms, kicked the owners to the street, and then doled out the property to cronies. The patronage line outside of Mugabe’s office was filled with judges, military officers, relatives, and members of parliament; hangers-on made all the more clingy with stolen land. The once prolific farms are now languishing under the new ownership and the results have been disastrous, with millions of Zimbabweans facing hunger as food shortages threaten to push the country toward famine. What a pathetic scene: Mugabe’s bootlickers lined up for free land while the rest of Zimbabwe’s 12 million citizens are queued up for international food aid.

Mugabe is a thug — a thug with guns. Life is cheap in Zimbabwe: Mugabe’s regime is backed by hit squads and henchmen almost as crazy as him. Since 2000, thousands of white farmers have fled the country, their land stolen in the name of Mugabe justice.

Mike Campbell bought his farm in 1980, and with his son-in-law Ben Freeth, grew mangoes, citrus fruit, corn, tobacco and sunflowers.  The Campbell farm employed 500 people, carried a stellar reputation and prospered during a 20-year run. In 2000, Mugabe’s “redistribution” began and Campbell was told to get out: No more house; no more farming; no more land; and no more legal claim to the property.

But Campbell was going nowhere: “We’re not British or Scottish … We’re African,” he told reporters. He dug in his heels and defended his farm, fully aware of the consequences. Campbell was taking on a man who had killed thousands, and standing up to a regime that fueled itself on intimidation. “You know, you’ve got to do something. Otherwise, you will just lie on your back and put your legs and arms in the air and call it a day,” said Campbell.

Campbell maintained a vigil over his farm and kept working the land, shotgun at the ready. With no police to protect him and no court to back him, Campbell was testing the bounds of self-reliance. He allowed a movie crew to capture a few months of his life and the subsequent documentary, "Mugabe and the white African," was a stunner — a fine and poignant film. There is a particular scene that sums up Campbell’s calm, determined demeanor. One night Freeth finds out that some of Mugabe’s men are preparing to attack the Campbell farm. He goes into the den or living room where Campbell is sitting with his wife Angela, enjoying an evening glass of whiskey. Freeth tells him that seven men have been spotted in the farm’s cornfield, armed with axes and knives. Campbell makes his reply: “We can go and declare open war, but I don’t think that’s going to solve the problem. It might — but I’ll go out when I finish my drink.”

Campbell took his case to an international court and won — but to no avail. Mugabe simply ignored the ruling and ratcheted up the pressure. Mugabe always knew that if he let Campbell off, thousands of other white farmers would attempt to reclaim their land. Months before the international court made its decision in November of 2008, Campbell, his wife Angela, and Freeth were kidnapped by Mugabe’s forces and tortured for nine hours. They were all badly injured (Freeth’s skull was fractured), but Mike Campbell suffered the worst with extensive head trauma, cracked ribs, and severe injuries to his lower legs from having the soles of his feet beaten.

The following year, in 2009, Campbell was physically forced off his land and his farmhouse was destroyed. Campbell never got his farm back and he never recovered from the physical assault. On April 6, 2011, due to complications related to his torture, Campbell died.  According to the L.A. Times, as Campbell lay dying, he was “asked if he had forgiven the people who had taken everything from him. A cloud crossed his face. But in the end, his answer was yes.”

Freeth summed up the life of Mike Campbell: "He stood for justice, for all of us. For me, he was the most tenacious and courageous man I have ever had the privilege to know."

(See below for a clip from "Mugabe and the white African")

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